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Preventing civil war: integrating program and service staff.

Picture the scene: It's the second week of the summer camp season. Your off-season planning efforts are paying off - quality educational and recreational programming, superior summer staff, the best equipment and resources, and camp filled to capacity for the season.

All seems to be going well until ... the maintenance staff is upset with the waterfront staff; the administrative staff feels left out of staff evening events; a counselor cries after an argument with the kitchen staff... An impending battle has the potential to affect the campers, and suddenly, all that you hoped for, dreamed of, and planned for during the off season seems to crumble, leaving you to wonder what went wrong.

Program staff and service staff can "war" and have a negative effect on the best of camps, the best of plans, and with the best of camp directors and camp personnel. Little things can build up and become large problems if not properly dealt with.

How is it possible for staffs working toward a common goal - especially one so altruistic as providing youth a positive camp experience - to become divided?

The causes usually stem from misunderstood roles, conflicting expectations, feelings of under-appreciation, jealousy, and the perception of not being as important as another staff person. It's critical that directors take the time to prepare all staff members for their roles and take into account these issues. Otherwise, while working together for the same cause, we can become divided.

Understand and appreciate staff roles

Program staff members seem to have the best time laughing, singing, and "playing" with the campers. At the same time, they are with the campers all day (and in many cases, at resident camp, all night). They share the fun with campers, but also deal with discipline or emotional problems.

The camp cooks work long hours in a hot kitchen and usually have very little contact with the campers. The maintenance staff always has a long list of repairs waiting to be made and often the work requires the absence of campers for safety reasons. The office staff can get bogged down with paperwork and feel as though their structured office routine keeps them from enjoying the natural surroundings other staff become a part of. For all staff, the list goes on and on.

It is natural for these two groups, program and service staff, to compare what seem to be "glamorous" roles with what appear to be mundane and commonplace. This perception can lead to frustration, a lack of appreciation, and an interruption in the usual routine among staff.

How can directors prevent this civil war? Take the initiative to integrate program and service staff from the beginning and work at keeping them together throughout the season. Ideas that work:

In the off season

* Inform all staff about what lies ahead in terms of the benefits of camp to youth, the purposes and goals of your camp program, and the importance of treating children with respect.

* Keep all staff updated on a regular basis; discuss any apprehensions, answer questions, and encourage input from everyone.

* Explain the various staff roles, job expectations, and relationships between positions.

* Provide encouragement in terms of value, importance, and appreciation for all staff in their commitment to the camp facility and support for the summer camp season.

When camp staff arrive

* Hold an all staff meeting to introduce each to the other, provide an opportunity for open conversation, and create an atmosphere of friendliness and teamwork.

* Do not build up one staff position as more important than another. Give examples of ways each person contributes to the camp experience.

* Organize an all staff picnic, outing, ice cream social, or pizza party that creates a relaxed and fun atmosphere. During this social, ask staff to introduce themselves, providing a brief description of their role at camp and something unique about themselves (hobby, favorite pastime, food, song, etc.).

* Provide an opportunity for all staff to participate in one of the camp's team-building activities. Not only will this bring staff together, it will help them better understand some of the campers' experiences.

Once camp begins

* Have each program staff person partner with a service staff person. Use the partnerships to show appreciation for and to inform each other.

* Create an atmosphere of respect and appreciation among all staff by encouraging smiles and providing opportunities for staff to talk with each other on a daily basis.

If a "civil war" begins to fester, or if there are rumors of one, take the initiative to deal with the situation immediately, getting all the facts, and working to find a solution.

* Look for signals of uneasiness, unhappiness, or upset conditions among staff.

* Walk in the staff members' shoes for a while so that you have an appreciation for what they are going through.

* Try to structure some time for staff in similar positions to compare notes (e.g., counselors sharing what worked well with campers in a particular activity), but also structure time for staff in very different positions to share camp experiences. This will encourage all staff to understand and appreciate the other's position, may help them resolve conflicts on their own, and may even build some friendships that otherwise would not be formed.

Let's face it, no one wants to be made to feel that his/her job is insignificant; we all want to be appreciated for what we do. As Abraham Lincoln, our Civil War era president, stated so well, "United we stand; Divided we fall." Let's get staff to work together toward our common camp goals.

Bob Meadows is a state 4-H specialist at Virginia Tech with Virginia Cooperative Extension and is in charge of the statewide 4-H camp program. His responsibilities include working with the program directors and staffs of the six 4-H educational centers that conduct camp programs involving 21,000 campers each year throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. He holds a bachelor's and master's degree from West Virginia University and plans to complete his doctorate in Education Administration from Virginia Tech this fall. His camp experiences cover over 30 years, in three states, as a camper, staff member, director, and program director.
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Title Annotation:conflict among camping staff
Author:Meadows, Robert Ray
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Previous Article:Supervising staff: the one minute approach.
Next Article:Divorce and camp: emotional and legal issues.

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